Bercy Chen elevation of their idea.

A chronicle of our "adventure" building a
Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Usonian home
in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas.

Usonian by Pharo

My idea.


Monday, August 13, 2018

So far we have a barn, a road to the site,
electricity, a water well and a septic system which
runs to the barn.
I now have a half bath in the barn and do not have to
drive 20 minutes for a bathroom break.

But no house.


We have a barn which we organized.
They put it up in 2 days once the foundation was poured.
Yes, I have a concrete hallway and tack room floor.

Pharo Barn

We finished out the tackroom, added a ceiling
and a half bath with a sink and toilet.
Nice and cozy.


In June, 2012, after looking over our present situation,
we decided that we should consider moving from Cypress
to where we both would rather live: Austin.
Being UT grads we both wanted to be nearer the University.
With our "unexpected windfalls" we might be able to
build my dream home: a Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian.
I started looking for an architect or builder
who could help us design and build a
Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian.
Easier said than done.

Jacob House

The ranch style house I grew up in
was derived from Wright's ground hugging design.
My neighborhood was filled with long low houses,
one room wide with a hall down the perimeter.
That was the basic Usonian design.
The first Jacob's House was my inspiration.

Palmer Living Room

The Palmer House living room has a look I hope to re-create.
We will have a red concrete floor
and decking with indirect lighting.

But first we needed to find the right piece of land.
To follow the design of the Wright Usonian -
the road side is the "public" side. No picture windows.
Only clerestory windows (1' x 4') under the eaves.
The private side is toward the view with floor to ceiling glass.
In order to replicate this design the property needed to be
approached from above. The view had to be over the hill.
Having the road to the property in the view
defeats the purpose of the design.

In fall of 2012 we found a real estate agent and started looking
at raw land. We wanted to stay near Austin
somewhere on the west side.

It would be embarrassing to go into the details
of all the agents we went through.
I looked through the Internet for a builder
who understood Frank Lloyd Wright design.
As much as people admire FLLW it is not a design
that you pick off the shelf.
I soon understood that we would have to
hire an architect.

I found a website called the Usonian Red House.
Someone actually building a Usonian,
Thomas (Tim) Sutton, an architect in Ohio.
Mr. Sutton was kind enough to correspond with me.
Over and over he answered my questions and freely shared with me
his advice. He actually sent me a plan that he drew himself.
I will cherish his plan. I began to see how difficult this would be.

At the same time I found a website for the "Lakeway Usonian".
It was not going well. The owner was not happy.
Now the page is gone.
I do not know how it turned out.

(Just recently I found another page about
the construction of a Usonian.
The page info stops in 2015.)

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Fall, 2012, we met with our first realtor and
started looking for raw land.
I drew a circle from the west side of Austin using I-35
as the center line. I did not want to go as far west
as Fredericksburg.
It was the time of the severe drought.
Lake Travis was a shadow of its former self.
Never had I seen the water line so low.

Lake Travis Drought

Lake front property was cheap but I did not want a lake view.
I wanted a hill view. I have lived on flat ground (the Houston area)
all of my life. The real estate agents took me at my word.
We saw so many drop offs, I was afraid to get out of the car.
I could see my chickens falling off the hill and
getting stuck on a cactus.


After 2-1/2 years of looking and many exhausted realtors
in November of 2014 we found the spot.
We had driven out to Fredericksburg just for a vacation.
We looked at the galleries and had some German food
and found another real estate agent who took us to see
a propery in Las Colinas Ranch, a POA
just west of Dripping Springs.
Here it was: the piece of property entered from above.
The first thing I noticed was quiet;
no road noise just birds and the wind.
Then we saw the view.

Bedroom View

The idea of the Usonian was having a public side and
the view on the private side
Finally found it in Las Colinas Ranch.

Along the way we had found a builder who was an admirer
of Frank Lloyd Wright. He traveled all over with us
looking at property but when we got down to the actual
planning he backed out. I think building a Usonian is
more difficult than we thought.

So, I turned to Mr. Sutton.
He suggested that I had the foremost expert on FLLW
design right there at the Unversity of Texas.
That seemed to go well until we
got down to the nitty gritty and suddenly he had
more to do elsewhere.


In July, 2015 we went to Bercy Chen Studio,
the firm that had started the Lakeway Usonian
and signed a contract to design our Usonian.

This has been a learning experience.
Building on raw land is not like building in town.
Though we have a Property Owners Association (POA)
and a gate and a hardtop road to our property, we had no road
to our building site. In order to get an address we needed a road.
In order to get electricity brought in (from across the road)
we needed our own road. In order to get the engineers' report
we needed our own road.

So, in August , 2016, we finally got our own road.

Our Road


In the meantime we had been working out the plans with
Bercy Chen Studio, LLP.
Trying to keep the house under 2500 square feet was hard.
We wanted 3 bedrooms: a master suite, a guest bedroom
and the third that would double as William's office.
Part of the FLW Usonian ideal is a red concrete floor.
Finding someone who understood
what Integral Color meant was difficult.
The color had to be in the concrete, not on top.
Finding someone who could do it. Hard.
Finally we found a company.

Easier was finding someone who could supply 2' wide
floor to ceiling windows and matching french doors.
Andersen fit the bill. They could also supply
1' x 4' clerestory windows that rim the hallway
on the north side, the public side of the house.

It was add here, take-away there.
What I have to have vs.
what we can afford.

Everything has to be on the same level.
No stairs inside of the house. Every doorway has to be
36" wide. I don't want to have to move out
because one of us is in a wheelchair.

On August 30, 2016, we meet with PEC (Perdernales Elecric Company)
to get poles and electricity hooked up. Bee Caves Water Well
Drilling and a septic builder both came out to the site and
one other important rep for Equine Custom Barns.
My critters will get a new custom barn. Real progress.

Bedroom View

The view.

The idea was to get everything worked out on paper
before construction started. That way we wouldn't be
knocking out a wall that had just been built.
But dealing with engineers and architects on paper
has been just as bad.

You make a change from their idea and they have to
re-do everything again, call out the structural engineers
and re-survey the property, all of which the owner has to pay for.

Their answer, of course, is that we are novices at this.
How many houses does one build in a lifetime?


Things were moving forward until Harvey. Our house in Cypress nearly
flooded. The garage and the enclosed patio flooded but the house
itself did not. It was tramatic.

We had put furniture up on bricks and had moved everything out
of low shelves. (I am still trying to find things.)
Nothing can ever be stored in a cardboard box again.

After Harvey my concern turned to the water flow
down our hillside. We had already gone through extensive
discussions about building a retaining wall. The price was
out of this world and it was ugly. I did not want it.


We happen to have a neighbor who is a Hydrologist,
a water engineer. We visited with him about what the architects
and their engineers were saying. He gave us other ideas.
So we hired our own hydrologist. He surveyed the land
and said, "if you rotate the house 10 degrees you don't need
a retaning wall. The architects differed. Our engineer expalined.
A new drainage system was designed. New costs.
Escalating costs. We have spent more in prep than
we had anticipated.

Now we are two retirees with lots of assests
looking for financing of a one-of-a-kind house.

The proud owners of this home will be: William & Olva Pharo
The Architect of record: Bercy Chen Studio, Austin, TX
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Last Update: 4 November, 2018